We’ve all had “that” horse. The one who tears at your heart and is the one who will never be matched.
For me, “that horse” was my first—Jonah. He belonged to a long-time friend of my mother who had relocated from Colorado to raise a family in the Boston area. The friend knew that my brother and I were learning to ride, and so she contacted my mother and offered her horse, who needed a home, because she didn’t have the time for him anymore.
So the four of us crammed ourselves into the family car (a Jeep Grand Cherokee) and took a “National Lampoon’s” style trip across country. When we arrived in Boston, we met this scraggly, resentful spotted horse, who was clearly out of place amongst the English horses in a very fancy hunter barn.
That first ride in Boston consisted of a walk—a very slow walk—around the arena; if I asked for anything different he’d reach around and try to bite my leg. As a short Leopard Appaloosa/Arabian cross, Jonah was tough as nails and made me work for everything I asked him to do. But my mom figured, a free horse is a free horse, and if we gave this old guy a home, our own horse search would end. My dad figured since Jonah was already 18, my brother and I would have an outlet for our riding for a few years until we “grew out of the horse thing” and then go back to riding motorcycles and building tree forts like his childhood days.
Jonah and I at our first horse show | photo courtesy of Tiffany Mead
Back home, as we waited for Jonah to be trucked to Colorado from Boston, we found a local 4-H club to join and immediately became involved with all of the “extra” activities of the 4-H horse project including: joining the horse judging, Hippology and horse bowl teams. We quickly added a trailer, a new saddle, many kinds of bits, and eventually a truck to our collection of horse paraphernalia.
In our first full year with Jonah, my dad was determined that this “horse thing” was a phase, so we still lived in town where horses were definitely not allowed. And since we couldn’t have him in our backyard, we tried to find the right barn that also wasn’t an hour drive each way. We moved Jonah three separate times that year starting first at the house of some new horse friends, then to a relative’s house who had a barn, and then eventually to the boarding stable where my brother and I learned to ride. It took us a number of years to find the right horse property, but that is a story for a different time.
I continued taking lessons and started going to any clinic offered by trainers or 4-H clubs that I could get to, but I quickly learned that having a horse of my own was much different than I had imagined. The books and movies I idolized as a young girl didn’t fully explain that owning a horse wasn’t all carrots and trail rides. You didn’t just show up at the barn where your horse was already saddled and then go for a ride with your friends. There was a lot of hard work and a lot of sore muscles involved—especially from stacking bales of hay, mucking stalls and falling off (which I did too many times to count).
The first few years with Jonah were rocky; he was never the easiest horse to ride, show, or just have around.
But eventually we became inseparable.
Aside from 4-H, he and I joined a local mounted drill team, competed in many horse shows across the area and even tried team penning (without much success). Since he was so striking, he was always a crowd favorite at all of the parades we rode in. At the rodeo performances we did with the drill team, Jonah and I quickly became accustomed to hearing children shout “Mommy! It’s a polka-dotted pony!”
Because of him I was determined to learn all I could about horses, training, and the Western way of life. As I grew up, the already senior horse softened to my requests, and we both grew accustomed to the attention we would get because of his loud coloring.
Jonah grazing at age 29 | Photo by Tiffany Mead
Eventually my dad realized how foolish it was to think that we were going to grow out of this phase and finally agreed to get another horse. Flyer was the next horse we bought and he instantly became my brother’s best friend. Then we added my show gelding JJ, and my brother’s rope horse Zip. After a few years of being comfortable with our herd of four, my mother purchased Daisy (a bay mare), Saint (a bay gelding) and Sage, (a paint mare) in short succession. They were all going to be her little projects.
But for me, none could compare to Jonah. I loved JJ and the others, but I always felt like I was betraying Jonah if I came to the barn to ride one of the others and didn’t at least brush him out or give him a treat. He practically raised me, and I can honestly say that my life would be very different if we wouldn’t have met on that fateful day when he tried to bite my leg off.
After I graduated from high school, we kept Jonah and he held a place of honor in the barn. He was always fed first and was always the last to come in from the pasture so he could soak up those precious final moments of the sunset. Once I started college, our rides became fewer and farther between, but he found a new roll as THE horse for the family pony rides; our cousins and out-of-town visitors couldn’t get enough him. What can I say? No one can resist those charming spots.
This October marks two years that Jonah’s been gone. After 14 years with us, at the ripe age of 32 I had to say good-bye to my best friend and the first horse I ever loved. I still ride and have strong affection for the remaining horses in our little herd, but a piece of me still expects to hear his greeting when I step into the barn.
His nicker was always the first and last thing I would hear while in the barn.